James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

You Don’t Have to Be Famous to Chug a Cup of Wiggly Tofu

You Don’t Have to Be Famous to Chug a Cup of Wiggly Tofu

Taho in the Philippines

“Ta-ho! Taah-hooo…Tahooooo…” A street vendor outside our college at the University of the Philippines would shout. It is peddled in a distinct way. The name called out repetitively in a full and rising inflection to catch your attention. For years, every single morning it was my breakfast of choice. Before the first class of the day I’d rush out onto the road to grab a warm cup of taho without fail.

My life as an art student pretty much revolved around paint. Whatever money was leftover went to food. There was a need for something nourishing, fast and cheap. The long-standing joke amongst friends was to never have Taho again after graduation once we became rich and famous. The paint fumes can make one delusional, apparently.

The Philippine snack consists of soft and silky tofu, brown sugar syrup, and tapioca pearls. Its origins can be traced back to the Chinese douhua, which is soybean pudding eaten savory or sweet. Through trade, the Chinese have influenced local Filipino cuisine for centuries.

It is prepared before dawn and stored in two aluminum buckets that hang from each end of a bamboo stick. A vendor balances it on his back, or perhaps use a bicycle for ease. The larger bucket holds the tofu base. The smaller container keeps the brown syrup (arnibal) and sago (tapioca pearls). The men follow routes around town very early in the morning until late afternoon. They are a particularly common sight throughout the country.

The white wiggly tofu is served in a clear plastic cup, either small or large. It is normal for customers in residential areas to bring out their own cups to be filled along the sidewalk. Using a flat, wide, metal scoop, the surface of the curd is skimmed of any excess water. A thin, metal ladle is used to spoon the tapioca pearls and syrup, which are then mixed gently with the tofu.

The only way taho junkies consume it is by slurping it straight out from the cup in one slow gulp. Spoons are not an option and straws are for phonies. The warm bean curd squirts in your mouth. The mush mixed with the starchy translucent sago and amber syrup creates quite a sugar rush. For a few extra pesos, you can dictate your proportions: light to corrosively sweet, all depending on the type of morning or day it will be.

A decade has passed. I have transitioned into consuming taho while hungover every Sunday morning outside a church. I never became famous.

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